The Unlovely Love of Jesus

LoveWhat is love? If it’s true that “It’s all about love” then how we answer this question means everything.

Who defines love? The media? Our culture? Political-correctness? Our religious leaders? — or Jesus?

How did Jesus love? Have you given it real thought? Are you content to assume an answer or do you want the truth enough to really examine his life?

As you’re about to find out, Jesus didn’t love like we do. In fact, by our self-serving standards, he did it all wrong. In fact, if Jesus walked into the average local church today and behaved the way he did in the Gospels, we’d have him thrown out immediately. And then, if any of us ran into him, we’d run!

Our Love

We all have different ideas of what love should feel like or look like, based on our conditioning (e.g. parents, teachers, friends, ministers, churches, books, etc.). And it’s these ideas that “qualify” us to judge everything and everyone around us as being either loving or unloving.

Our love is earthly and conditional and appears sweet on the surface. Our love prefers unity over integrity, conformity over loyalty, friendliness over honesty, sweetness over truth, acceptance over righteousness, and the approval of man over the approval of God. Our love is selfish, while his love is selfless. Our love is motivated by what is best for us, while his love is motivated by Wisdom. Our love seeks short-term benefits, while his love seeks our highest and best.

Instead of seeking to know true love, which is God, to know and experience him as he really is, we’ve created love in our own image and replaced him with a deity that is more like us than him (of course, none of us would admit this). Instead of embracing the essence of his nature in Spirit and Truth, we’ve invented a fashionable love with many convenient sizes, shapes and colors so that everyone feels good and feels accepted.

Jesus said the world would know we are his by our love. But whose love? Ours or his?

True Love

The true love of God is the summum bonum, the supreme good. And yet, it is diminished and even castrated when mixed with our love.

The Word became flesh and lived among us in Jesus Christ, but he didn’t behave like we do and didn’t change himself to be like us, for our sake. He expressed the heart of our Father in ways that were always good for us but rarely good to us, from our viewpoint.

Jolie's Green Jesus Painting
Photo of a painting by Jolie Eastman, Durham, NC

Jesus defines true love. Thus, everything we learn about love should be measured by him. It’s okay to learn about love by reading First Corinthians 13 (“The Love Chapter”) or by listening to good sermons on love, but everything we learn about love cannot reflect the true nature of Love Himself apart from Jesus who is the express image of our Father. The Old Testament and Acts through Revelation have much to say about love, but they can only be understood through Jesus’ example – not the other way around. Therefore, if what we believe about love does not agree with his life, then we need to dismantle everything we think we know about love and start from scratch with him at the center.

His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are greater than our thoughts. There are depths and dimensions within God’s love that surpass knowledge and extend far beyond our earthly love, that benefit eternity far more than our mere human goodness ever could (Eph 3:18-19). We define love by how we treat others but…

First John 5:2-3 (AMP) says…

“By this we come to know (recognize and understand) that we love the children of God: when we love God and obey his commands (orders, charges)–[when we keep his ordinances and are mindful of his precepts and his teaching]. For the [true] love of God is this: that we do his commands [keep his ordinances and are mindful of his precepts and teaching]…” (See also 2 Jn 6).

How do we know we love God and people? When we love God and obey him. This is the acid test. We aren’t to love people by loving people but by loving and obeying God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And how do we know this is true? Because Jesus — our supreme example — loved people by loving and obeying our Father (Jn 14:31; 1 Jn 2:5). He kept the first commandment first and kept the second commandment second, not out of duty or obligation to the Law but out of love for our Father.

And he loved in deed and truth, not just in word (1 Jn 3:18). He always spoke the truth in love and everything he did communicated love but not like we think, as you’ll see below. His love was both kind and severe, with the love of a mother and father combined into one (Rom 11:22). He was a disciplinarian and a nurturer, a fighter and a lover, a king and a priest. His love was always redemptive and often offensive. But who did it offend?

Religion has fabricated a version of Jesus that is far more like us than our Father. We’ve envisioned someone who travelled around, telling people to be nice to each other, but how could this have gotten him killed? As Phillip Yancey wrote, “What government would execute Mister Rogers or Captain Kangaroo?” He wasn’t safe or conventional. The tone and demeanor of his life rarely fit our common definitions of gentleness, kindness, humility and self-control. His love was, at times, very unlovely since he was (and still is) very unlike you and me.

Jesus didn’t seek the approval or disapproval of men. He wasn’t interested in becoming a well-known public figure (Jn 5:41, 44; 7:1-7). He didn’t concern himself with what anyone thought or said about his teachings and had no regard for anyone’s title, status or position (Matt 22:16). He never sought human praise or honor because he was content in our Father’s affection. Therefore, he was immune to bribery or human pressure. He never responded to human need or demands, out of human empathy or sympathy, nor did He ever consult himself or others as we so often do in the name of wisdom. Instead, he only did what he saw our Father doing and only spoke what he heard him saying (Jn 5:17, 19, 30, 36; 6:38; 7:16-17; 8:16, 26, 28-29, 38, 40).

He was fully human but chose our Father’s disposition over human propensities. He didn’t care like we care because he didn’t see as we see, thereby viewing life around him from a higher perspective, which enabled him to deliver Heaven’s best for everyone’s ultimate good. His love was unconditional and self-less but upset many. His love was illogical and eccentric but personified God’s heart and many hated him for it.

Why? Well, while it’s true that he showed love in lovely ways, there are also many examples where his love, at first glance, wasn’t very lovely at all.

For instance…

  1. When he healed the sick, diseased or handicapped, he used many crude methods that were very distasteful, repulsive and disgusting (see Matt 9:1-2; Mk 7:32-34; 8:22-26; Jn 4:46-49; 9:1-11). Obviously, love motivated these healings and miracles, but do you think, from a merely human perspective, that his methods communicated love? How would you feel if he put his spit on your tongue to heal your muteness? Would you approve of him healing your blindness by putting a mixture of his spit and some dirt on your eyes?
  2. He healed one man at the pool of Bethesda who was crippled “…with a deep-seated and lingering disorder for thirty-eight years…” but didn’t heal the “…great number of sick folk…” who were also present and needed a miracle (Jn 5:1-9 AMP). At first glance, it seems Jesus played favorites, but nothing could be further from the truth (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9). As for why Jesus healed only one out of a multitude, I’m not quite sure. What we know for sure is that Jesus stated over and over again that he never responded to human need and did nothing of his own accord but only did what he saw our Father doing (see Jn 5:19, 30; 8:28, 29; 14:10, 31 AMP). Obviously, Jesus healed this one man because that is what Love led him to do.
  3. When Jesus was informed that Lazarus, his dear friend, was sick, he didn’t immediately go to help him. Instead, he waited four days and then went to him after he had already died (Jn 11:1-44). Of course, when he arrived, he raised him from the dead. But why didn’t Jesus go to see his friend the moment he heard he was sick? Why did he let Lazarus die and his family grieve? Did he not love them? Of course he did! But the reason he let Lazarus die was so that he could show his glory by raising him from the dead. Plus, as already stated, Jesus never responded to human need and did nothing of his own accord but only did what he saw our Father doing (see Jn 5:19, 30; 8:28, 29; 14:10, 31 AMP).
  4. He spoke in parables and mysteries to the multitudes, religious and political leaders and even to his very own followers and often expressed frustration when they didn’t understand what he was saying (Matt 15:17; 16:9,10; Mk 4:13; 6:52; 8:17-21; Lk 9:45; Jn 3:9-10; 6:22-71; 8:43). He didn’t use the latest and greatest principles of public speaking in order to reach his audiences, to appeal to their way of learning. If he had been considerate of (loving toward) his hearers, by our standards, he would have “known his audience” and done his best to communicate in a way that was simple and down-to-earth for them, no matter who they were. Right?
  5. He saw into people’s secret lives – into their hearts – and often disclosed them, removing their ability to hide from the Truth (Matt 9:4-6; 12:25-37; Jn 1:48; 2:24-25; 4:16-19). He didn’t coddle the darkness but exposed it, which brought embarrassment to the proud and self-righteous who kept their skeletons, demons, and blemishes in the closets of their hearts.
  6. He publically rebuked, condemned, and judged individuals, crowds, and whole cities for their stupidity and stubbornness, for witnessing his miracles without turning from to God (Matt 11:20-24; Lk 10: 13-15; 11:27-32). He called his generation evil, hypocritical, irresponsible, and adulterous (Lk 11:29; 12:54-59). Does that sound like love to you? No! But he rebuked (and still rebukes) those he loved (Heb 12:5-11).
  7. One time, after healing someone, he gave them a strong warning, “See, you are well! Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (Jn 5:14 AMP). Was that a threat? Of course not, but if something like this were said today, we’d call it a threat. Plus, it didn’t seem very encouraging either did it? But why do we put so much stock into how things “sound” and “seem”? Why are we so quick to think the worst? The truth is that Jesus wanted them to stay whole and, therefore, told them how to keep the healing they’d been given.
  8. He said many harsh things to the multitudes for their dullness, rebellion, wickedness and unbelief (Matt 16:27; 17:14-20; Jn 6; 7:7, 19; 9:39). There were also times that he came across as bossy, elitist, cocky and cold-hearted (Jn 7:16-17, 24, 28-29, 34, 37-38; 8:12, 14-59). By today’s standards, he wasn’t encouraging or seeker-sensitive as a leader, nor was he comforting to those who doubted him. In fact, there were times when he openly threatened people with death if they would not repent, saying, “…Unless you repent… you will all likewise perish and be lost eternally,” like the Galileans who were slaughtered by Pilate and the eighteen people who were crushed to death by the tower that fell in Siloam (Lk 13:1-5 AMP). Clearly, he didn’t preach or teach the party line, ebbing-n-flowing with ministry “trends” for mass appeal or cultural relevancy. As a result, he often fell behind in “the polls.”
  9. He entered the Temple, on at least one occasion, and violently drove out the merchants and their customers. He pushed over their money-tables and overturned the stalls of those who were selling doves, yelling at them, saying, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” (Matt 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-18; Lk 19:45-48; Jn 2:13-22). His father’s zeal burned in him like a bonfire. This was a major expression of divine love and respect for our Father, despite the way it looked or what everyone may have thought at the time because he loved and respected our Father more than he loved and respected anyone else (Heb 12:5-11).
  10. He wept over Jerusalem, broken over its rejection of his embrace. As a result, he pronounced desolation upon her house and the removal of his presence and said, “You will not see me again until you say, Blessed…is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:37-39 AMP).
  11. He cursed an unfruitful fig tree for being unfruitful even though it wasn’t the season for figs (Matt 21:18-22; Mk 11:12-14, 22-24). Where’s the love in using the power of God to curse an innocent organism that was obviously doing what it was supposed to do? Could this not be considered a misuse of the power of God Who is love? Can you imagine the backlash against Jesus (or one of his followers) if he did this today? Would it not be viewed by militant environmentalists as an act of aggression (or worse, terrorism) against Mother Nature! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. :))
  12. He raised and maintained the standard, value and integrity of the Kingdom (Matt 5-7; 20:20-22; Lk 9:23-26). He never shortened or broadened the straight and narrow way out of mercy for those who needed a leg-up or a short-cut (Matt 7:13-14; Lk 13:22-30). He never lowered the bar or compromised the price of authentic discipleship. In fact, he made the cost too great for some to bear (Matt 10:34-39; Lk 14:25-33; Jn 8:31). Rather than promoting peace, he brought division (Matt 10:34-39; Lk 12:51-53; 14:26-27). As a result, the curious were set apart from the committed (See Matt 8:18-22; 19:16-26; Mk 10:17-27; Lk 9:57-62; 18:18-23; Jn 6:22-71). His evangelistic style and methodology were often very harsh, cold, and unpopular compared to most well-known evangelists today. For instance, in John 5:19-47, Jesus gave a face-slapping message and finished by saying, “I simply mention all these things in order that you may be saved.” Today, we would tell Jesus that if he really cared about “winning the lost,” he be more gentle, caring and compassionate; if he really loved people, he would tone it down to meet them where they are instead of beating them over the head with such abusive rhetoric.
  13. When his disciples – his inner circle – displayed unbelief and ignorance, he didn’t coddle them or encourage them with “Well, it’s okay. You’ll get it eventually. It takes time and we have all the time in the world.” Instead, he scolded them and would say things like, “…Are you…yet dull and ignorant [without understanding and unable to put things together]?…Oh you of little faith, why do you doubt?…Why are you so timid and fearful? How is it that you have no faith (no firmly relying trust)?…Do you not yet discern or understand? Are your hearts in [a settled state of] hardness?…O foolish ones [sluggish in mind, dull of perception] and slow of heart to believe (adhere to and trust in and rely on) everything that the prophets have spoken!” (See Matt 8:23-26; 14:28-31; 15:15-16; 16:5-12; Mk 4:40; 8:13-21; Lk 8:22-25; 24:25; Jn 14:8-9; 20:26-29; 21:15-23 AMP). Jesus even went so far as to ask his disciples if they were as dense as the Pharisees (Matt 15:1-16). How insulting! Right? Especially considering that Jesus didn’t open the disciple’s minds to understand his words until the end of his ministry (Lk 24:45). And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he once called Judas a “devil” (Jn 6:70-71) and then called Peter “Satan” when he saw things from a human point of view instead of God’s (Matt 16:21-25). Does this sound like someone who was full of love? Of course not, not from our human perspectives. But did Jesus love his disciples? Of course he did! How would you like to be discipled by someone like this?
  14. As for the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Lawyers, and Teachers of the Law, we know Jesus loved them very much, as he loved everyone; in fact, he loved these “authority figures” so much that he spoke the Truth to them, in love, even to the degree that he scolded and shamed them to their faces, time and time again, verbally undressing them in front of everyone. His language and tone was always very strong and often very insulting, leaving the “leaders” shell-shocked and embarrassed (Matt 9:3-7; 12:1-14, 24-45; 15:1-14; 16:1-4; 19:1-12; 21:23-45; 22:15-46; 23:1-36; Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6; 7:1-13; 10:1-12; 12:1-40; Lk 5:27-39; 6:1-11; 11:37-54; 13:14-17; 14:1-6; Jn 9:39-41; 10:24-26; Heb 12:5-11). Of course, his contention wasn’t with flesh and blood men but against dark rulers, authorities, and powers in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). And yet he engaged the religious leaders who, knowingly or unknowingly, enabled and embodied the greatest religious evils of his time. In fact, he oftentimes appeared to have a personal vendetta against the religious and political leaders, though it was never personal (Lk 13:31-33). From the common man’s perspective, it looked like Jesus had no patience for these leaders who were blind and deceived and, therefore, didn’t know any better. He didn’t “kill them with kindness” or “love them into change” as we would think should be done today, and yet he loved them more than anyone else ever had and ever would.
  15. When the Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus begging him to deliver her daughter of a tormenting demon, he responded, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But this didn’t stop her. She threw herself at his feet and worshipped him, pleading all the more for help, to which he said, “It is not right…to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Did you catch that? “Sweet and gentle Jesus” called this woman a “dog”! Does this sound like the Jesus our Sunday-School teacher told us about? Where was the love in that? On the surface, it looks like Jesus didn’t care anything about her or her daughter when, in fact, he did love her and was simply testing her character, along with the strength and persistence of her faith. He was “rude” for a reason — to test her true nature, to see if she would allow herself to become angry, offended or bitter. And what happened? Well, she passed the test — she did not allow her feelings to be hurt and, in the end, received her fully restored daughter (See Matt 15:22-28 and Mk 7:24-30).
  16. Finally, one time, when Jesus was speaking to a crowd, someone told him that his mother and brothers were waiting to speak with him, to which he said, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then, in answer to his question, he pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are by mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” (Matt 12:46-50 AMP) Can you imagine what this looked like and sounded like to everyone present? Can you imagine how this must have hurt Mary and his blood brothers? Was he disowning his family or was he just trying to shock everyone? No! He said what he heard our Father saying (see Jn 7:16; 8:26, 28, 38; 12:49-50; 14:10 in the Amplified Bible), promoting His will as the basis of true relationship with him in the family of God.

With all these examples in mind — and there are many others I left out — can you imagine if someone actually loved like this today?

Would you like them?

How popular would they be, in your local church, in the highways and byways, in the marketplace?

How many parties would they be invited to?

How many true friends would they have?

How would you treat them?

Would you be their friend?

How would you talk about them behind their backs?

Would you invite them over for dinner?

Would you let them into your hearts?

Think about it – seriously!

Now, did I go over all those examples of unlovely love to encourage you to be like that? No. My point is that God’s love doesn’t always look like what we think love is. So, we can’t pigeonhole His love into what it isn’t, into what we’ve been conditioned to believe it is by our culture or by our religious leaders. Jesus modeled perfect love in many ways — ways that we’re quite unfamiliar with. Unlike us, Jesus didn’t flatter, lie, compromise, or pretend in any way in order to “win friends and influence people.” He didn’t wear masks, flaunt himself or his abilities, serve out of self-interest or say one thing and do another. Many were uncomfortable around him because they had much to hide. But there were some who were at home with him because they knew he could see right through them and that was fine. They were glad to finally have someone in their lives that they could be vulnerable with, who knew them better than anyone else and still loved them most.

Your Real Nature

Jesus told us to love one another as he loves us and later told us that everyone would know we are his by our love (Jn 13:34-35). But, as we’ve seen, his love is not at all like ours and it is the kind and quality of our love that shows who we are following. We will live the love we’ve learned to live. The question is: Who is our teacher? The World? Our Pastor? Our Church? Traditions? The Media? Our parents? Our friends? Who?

When Jesus commanded his disciples and, in turn, commanded us to love each other in the same way that he loves us, he was, at the same time, directing us away from our love, away from the love of the world and every other kind of love that was and is not like his (Jn 15:12). But this requires a choice.

What if we stopped doing “the right thing” and being “a good person” and chose, instead, to follow the only One who is right and good? What if we stopped letting our hearts be leveraged by the expectations of others and stopped comparing ourselves to others and simply lived out of who he created us to be in him? Wouldn’t our daily lives be absolutely transformed?

Do we want to be relevant to this world or to the Kingdom of God? Who do we want to have the most in common with, people or Christ? Our great aim must be to follow our Father’s example, to know Him, see Him, ear Him, and follow His lead in everything we do, out of love for him. If Jesus did nothing independently, of his own authority, speaking and acting out of his own mind, but reflected our Father’s words and actions of love in everything he said and did, how much more should we commit our lives to obeying our Father in everything we say and do?

It is God’s love that advances His Kingdom, not ours. Yet, we continue to import our virtues into His work. But, He is inviting us to a higher place, where we love like He loves.

The nature and demeanor of Christ is already in you because you came from him and he is in you. His love is already in you because you are wholly filled and flooded with God himself, Who is love (Eph 3:19 AMP). And Christ in you will become Christ on you as he lives and moves and loves through you. No longer will you be governed or controlled by the world and its systems or the people and things in it. And neither will you be manipulated by what “seems” best or “appears” right. When he moves on you or nudges you within the many small moments of your daily life, you will be sensitive to follow his lead, even when he moves you toward something you don’t understand. As you spend time with him, practicing his presence throughout the day, you will develop confidence in hearing him and relying on his wisdom and power to move and speak through you. Then, when he taps on your heart to have you say or do something that is “out of the box,” you will respond, even while your palms are sweaty and heart is racing, because you will feel his love expanding and drawing you into a cooperative work with him. Though you will feel weak and unsure in yourself, you will allow the history you’ve developed with him in the Secret Place to fuel your faith into the unknown.

Why?

Because his love never fails.

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